to prominence as a lawyer, founding the country's first black law firm, and leading agitator for change. especially after the terrible sharpville massacre in 1960 when he and the african national congress took up armed struggle. >> there are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and nonviolence against a government who is on this savage path against unarmed and defenseless people. >> reporter: mandela was a born leader. so in 1964 the apartheid government tried him for treason and sought the dead penalty. his opening statement to the court electrified the country. >> i have cherished the ideals of a democratic and free society. it is an idea for which i hope to live for and to see realized. but my lord, if it needs be, it is an idea for which i am prepared to die. >> reporter: mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to the notorious robben island prison. he was not heard from for nearly 30 years. he was just prisoner number 46664. the years passed in prison. mandela became a myth, a global symbol for the fight against apartheid.